Denis Chevallier

[singlepic id=19 w=360 h=280 float=left]Flutist, composer and harpsichordist, Denis Chevallier wrote numerous works for a cappella chorus, songs, music and chamber orchestra. His pieces were created or interpreted by mezzo Lucile Richardot, the choir Les Cris de Paris, the Maîtrise of Notre Dame de Paris, the Ensembles 2E2M, Soli tutti, Plural, Residencias, the Orchestre Pasdeloup … He also made arrangements and orchestrations for the Compagnie Les Brigands, the Philharmonic Orchestra of Radio France, ARCAL, and the Compagnie l’Artifice.

An award winner of the International Composition Competition Mompou Barcelona in 2006,  he was a composer in residence at the Casa Velázquez in Madrid from 2007 to 2009. In 2010, he was supported by the Association Beaumarchais-SACD for his opera « l’Experience, » whose libretto is based on « the Milgram experiment. » It was premiered to the Théâtre du Rond Point in Paris in June 2011.


Recorded by the Maîtrise de Notre Dame de Paris, conducted by Lionel Sow, in 2005.

This piece is written for an a capella chorus SSSAATTB (the 3 voices of Sopranos being reduced to 2 in the last section). It opposes the two dimensions of the night like in the poetry of Hebbe l: both dizzying and exhilarating when you perceive the infinite through it, reassuring and protective when it wraps the sleeping child. The two corresponding sections are comprised of imitations between the different voices, articulated by vertical moments.

Nacthlied, by F.Hebbel

Quellende, schwellende Nacht ;
Voll von Lichtern und Sternen :
In den ewigen Fernen,
Sage, was ist da erwacht !
Herz in der Brust wird beengt,
Steigendes, neigendes Leben,
Riesenhaft fühle ich’s weben,
Welches das meine verdrängt.
Schlaf, da nahst du dich leis,
Wie dem Kinde die Amme,
Und um die dürftige Flamme
Ziehst du den schützenden Kreis.

Night Song
Swelling, pulsating night;
Full of lights and stars:
Far in the eternal,
Say what is awakened there!
Heart in the chest is cramped,
Growing, tending life,
Gigantic’s weave, I feel,
Which mean the displaced.
Sleep, as you draw near you gently,
As the child’s nurse,
And the meager flame
You prefer the protective circle.

Padre del ciel

From the album Capitolo Novo by the Les Cris de Paris conducted by Geoffroy Jourdain Recorded in 2002, available on Quobuz.

Composed for a double a cappella choir  (SATBSATB), subdivided at times up to 13 voices), this piece is inspired by the early Baroque madrigals, fond of contrasts that gave them the poetry of Petrarch, Dante, Tasso…This poetry indeed perfectly match their style made of opposition of nuances, tempos, etc.. It is also a prayer addressed to « Padre del ciel », hence the more contemplative and collected passages.

Padre del Ciel, Petrarch

Padre del ciel, dopo i perduti giorni,
Dopo le notti vaneggiando spese,
Con quel fero desio ch’al cor s’accese,
Mirando gli atti per mio mal si adorni,

Piacciati omai, col tuo lume, ch’io torni
Ad altra vita et a più belle imprese,
Si ch’avendo le reti indarno tese,
Il mio adversario se ne scorni.

Or volge, Signor mio, l’undecimo anno
Ch’i’fui sommesso al dispietato giogo
Che sopra i più soggetti è più feroce

Miserere del mio non degno affanno
Reduci i pensier vaghi a miglior luogo
Rammenta lor come oggi fusti in croce.

Father in heaven, lo! these wasted days
And all these nights in vain imaginings spent,
My thoughts enkindled to one maddening blaze,
On one alluring presence all intent!

May’t please Thee now that by Thy light I bend
My life to better things–some worthier aim–
And that my foe his snares in vain extend,
And at his bootless wiles be filled with shame.

‘Tis now, O Lord, the eleventh circling year
Since I am fettered by this pitiless chain
Which to the weak is ever most severe;

Have mercy on my undeserved pain!
Guide Thou my wandering thoughts some better way,
Remind them Thou wast on the cross to-day!

Quatuor à cordes, 1er mouvement

Ludovic Vanier, violin 1     Florent Jore, viola
Isabelle Audard, violin 2    Emilie Deront, cello

This movement of string quartet is often shrouded in anguish, which at times is released by long piano harmonics. These harmonics, however, take more and more place in the last section, serene and pure. The writing is based on the semitone, used both vertically (cluster chords), and in the melodic lines that arise.

Le tombeau de Mr Mr

Lucile Richardot, mezzo
Denis Chevallier, piano

This text, in a tone between the serious, the ludicrous and the absurd poses the eternal question of whether or not there is something after death. Hence a recitative style rather close to the text, the purpose being to make vivid and intelligible the progress of the thought of Tardieu.

Le tombeau de Monsieur Monsieur
Dans un silence épais
Monsieur et Monsieur parlent
c’est comme si Personne
avec Rien dialoguait.

L’un dit : Quand vient la mort
pour chacun d’entre nous
c’est comme si personne
n’avait jamais été.
Aussitôt disparu
qui vous dit que je fus ?

– Monsieur, répond Monsieur,
plus loin que vous j’irai :
aujourd’hui ou jamais
je ne sais si j’étais.
Le temps marche si vite
qu’au moment où je parle
je ne suis déjà plus
ce que j’étais avant.
Si je parle au passé
ce n’est pas même assez
il faudrait je le sens

– C’est vrai, reprend Monsieur,
sur ce mode inconnu
je conterai ma vie
notre vie à tous deux :
À nous les souvenirs !
Nous ne sommes pas nés
nous n’avons pas grandi
nous n’avons pas rêvé
nous n’avons pas dormi
nous n’avons pas mangé
nous n’avons pas aimé.

Nous ne sommes personne
et rien n’est arrivé.

Jean Tardieu (« Monsieur monsieur » Gallimard 1951)

The tomb of Sir Sir

In a thick silence
Mr. and Mr. speak
it is as if one
Nothing with dialogue.

One said: When death comes
for each of us
it’s as if someone
had never been.
immediately disappeared
who told you that I was?

– Sir, answered Sir,
farther you go:
now or never
I do not know if I was.
Time running so fast
that when I speak
I am no longer
what I was before.
If I speak in the past
it is not even enough
I feel it should be

– Yes, again, sir,
on unknown mode
I will relate my life
both of our lives:
To us the memories!
We are not born
we have not grown
we have not dreamed
we did not sleep
we did not eat
we did not like.

We are no one
and nothing happened.

L’expérience, opéra : livret et musique de Denis Chevallier

Ana Duyret, 1st guinea pig teacher, soprano, Sterenn Boulbin
Angela, mezzo, Béatrice Toussaint
Elisa,  2nd guinea pig student, mezzo, Béatrice Toussaint
M.Sobor, President Advisor, ténor, François Rougier
Dr. Kim, basse, Olivier Peyrebrune
Dr. Sem, baryton-basse, Jerôme Savelon
Jean, actor, 1st guinea pig student, baryton-basse, Florent Baffi
Pierre, Elisa’s brother, ténor, François Rougier
Samuel Hengebaert, viola
Jean Seleskovitch, horn
Denis Chevallier, piano
Balance engineer, Martin Fouilleul, Paris, théâtre du Rond Point, 06-06-2011

Composer statement
In 1963, Stanley Milgram, American psychologist, lead an experiment that, disguised as a routine test of memory, revealed how much we can abdicate of our own free will, in blind obedience. The results of this experiment are enough to make us shudder. As it turns out according to it that a great majority of human beings is likely to commit cruel acts, not because they want and decide, but only in obedience to an authority they recognize as such. In addition, repeated at different times, in other places, and repeatedly, it will give similar results.

It is this experience and its disastrous effect on real life which is presented in the opera, with the parade of emotions and questions it sparks off.

What is the motivation of such a widespread behaviour? Fear? Pride? Aggression? Conformism? Or the influence of our education, influence all the stronger that it is deeply buried in the unconscious? Everyone, having to face himself, will make its own interpretation of this « experiment ».

In a university, two researchers conduct an experiment called the Milgram experiment, which aims to study the effectiveness of punishment on memory: a guinea pig « teacher » has to read to guinea pig « student » a series of thirty nouns and adjectives. The latter must remember them, then match the adjectives with the corresponding nouns. At each wrong answer, the teacher gets the student an electric shock. Over the wrong answers, electric shock and growing pain of the student, the teacher is increasingly reluctant to continue, but the scientist exhorts him to do so. When the experiment reaches a critical point, the  President advisor, who has been attending it, is indignant, but then undeceived: the electric shocks are fictitious, the student is an actor, and his pain is feigned. He is being revealed the true purpose of the experiment: the guinea pig is not the student but the teacher, and it is through this subterfuge that they study how much we can abdicate of our own free will, in blind obedience situations.

The next day, the experiment takes place in a new location, but this time goes wrong: the student is not an actor, electric shocks are real, and the student succumbs, before those observing the experiment may intervene. The President advisor, determined that the results are dangerous for the power in place, ordered Kim, one of the researchers, to manipulate the experiment to discredit it and prevent realization from the public opinion. Meanwhile, Kim has been the most convincing guinea pig of that experiment.

« How fortunate for governments that people do not think … » reminds us of the epilogue .

Denis Chevallier